I’m not going to comment on any of the recent political events, nor mention the extraordinary betrayals, double-dealing and back-stabbing that has gone on, on every side, however, I’m sure it is just the way power affects people – either wanting it, having it, misusing it… and I was thinking about this when I read an extraordinary account of events from three hundred and fifty years ago, thousands of miles away in the Caribbean.
I’m sure there are very few people who have heard of Willoughbyland – I never had, but I am now intrigued and am going to buy a book about it by Matthew Parker, called ‘Willoughbyland: England’s Lost Colony’. Apparently there are several places in England named Willoughby, and many more which have been given that name by English colonists over the centuries, in Australia, Antigua, Canada and the USA… there are also some islands in the Barents Sea, described as ‘elusive’.
However, the Willouhgbyland which Parker writes about was a colony established by Lord Francis Willoughby in what is now Suriname. Willoughby it seems had been a was a parliamentary at the beginning of the English Civil War (1642-1651); however when it seemed that this side was becoming too egalitarian, he changed sides after six years and became a Royalist.
Having switched to the losing side, Willoughby realised his error and sailed away to Barbados and declared it for the king; he was pursued by a parliamentarian fleet – he had a fall-back plan, a small colony he had established in Suriname, and he decamped there.
However, he didn’t stay long, although he didn’t stay long but went off again. In his absence the colony seems to have become a model for a modern egalitarian state – the very thing Willoughby had fallen out with the Parliamentarians over in the 1640’s. However, once again, power, corruption, and a disastrous war against the Dutch, plus infectious diseased introduced by Willouhgby’s entourage in 1664. Willoughby was almost assassinated, but he escaped to sea, where at last fate caught up with him; On July 26th, 1666, a fleet of warships and 1,000 men, on the way to St Kitts from Barbados was caught up in a violent and devastating hurricane. Almost all the ships, the crew , soldiers and others on board were lost at sea. Willoughby’s body was never found, nothing remained except a couch which once belonged to him, found among the wreckage of the ships.
Here are links to an article about Willoughbyland and to Matthew Parker’s book: